An alleged religious extremist accused of participating in the near-fatal attack on a well-known radio host, during which the host was stabbed 40 times after his ute was rammed in the driveway of his South Auckland home, has been sentenced to five years and three months' prison.
Business owner Jaspal Singh, 41, pleaded guilty to attempted murder - an incident that prosecutors said was sparked by "religious sectarian fervour".
Harnek Singh - a DJ at Radio Virsa, which discusses religious and cultural issues in the Auckland Sikh community - was stabbed in his Wattle Downs driveway on the night of December 23, 2020, after a group of alleged attackers followed him home from temple.
The defendant had wielded a combination knuckle duster and knife during the attack but dropped it after he was accidentally cut, leaving his DNA at the scene, prosecutors said today during the sentencing hearing in the High Court at Auckland.
Defence counsel Ron Mansfield, QC, pointed out that it was religion that had given his client a stable life after dalliances with crime when he was younger.
"It was his faith that provided for his rehabilitation," Mansfield told Justice Geoffrey Venning, adding that it also helped his client serve as a caring husband and father and helped give him the resilience to start his own business, which then led to "selfless community work".
"But sadly, it was the manipulation of that same faith...that led his involvement in this very serious offending. He now accepts it wasn't right and it cannot be justified."
Harnek Singh, who was 53 when he was attacked, underwent multiple surgeries as a result of his wounds and still suffers from scarring and ailments to this day, the judge noted. His family felt it necessary to move from their home after the attack and continues to fear for their lives, he noted.
After Harnek Singh's ute was rammed that night, he locked the doors of his vehicle and started honking his horn in a bid for help, but the attackers broke the driver's side window, authorities have alleged. Crown prosecutor Luke Radich said the victim survived the violent attack only due to two "strokes of luck".
Had the defendant not accidentally dropped his weapon and had officers not arrived on scene so soon - due in part to the honking - to apply first aid and a tourniquet, the defendant likely would be facing a murder charge, Radich said.
"It is in some regards difficult to find a more serious attempted murder than this," he told the judge. "He suffered some very, very serious injuries. It's [also] a matter of good fortune there's no brain injury or spinal injury."
Radich disagreed with the defence describing the victim in court documents as a "controversial religious commentator" who had been exiled from the Sikh community, instead describing him as a progressive member of the religion when compared to more orthodox groups.
Justice Venning noted the victim was known throughout New Zealand and internationally for his commentary on Sikh issues and politics in India, and that the defendant attended a different temple. The impetus for the attack, Venning agreed, appeared to be religious extremism or political disagreement.
"There is no place for such actions in our society," Venning said.
But he also agreed with lawyers that the defendant appeared to be a "soldier" in the attack.
"I accept you were not the ringleader or the mastermind behind the plan," Venning said.
While the defendant had past alcohol-spurred convictions for assault, threatening to kill and possession of an offensive weapon, Justice Venning noted that he hadn't offended for about a decade prior to the attack on the radio host. Venning said a minimum non-parole period would not be necessary, in part because of the steps the defendant had taken at rehabilitation prior to the attack.
Supporters for the defendant quietly filled the courtroom as the judge's decision was announced. Jaspal Singh hobbled away on crutches as guards escorted him out of the courtroom to begin serving his sentence.
Charges remain pending against other men who were described today as having attended the same temple as Jaspal Singh.